Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tina Allen, Sculptor

Los Angeles Times:

Tina Allen dies at 58; sculptor created portraits of prominent African Americans
The L.A. artist captured the strong personalities of her subjects, including A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., Celes King III and Sojourner Truth.
Tina Allen, whose monumental sculptures of prominent African Americans through history -- including abolitionist Sojourner Truth and author Alex Haley -- fill public spaces across the United States, has died. She was 58.

Allen died Tuesday at Northridge Hospital Medical Center of complications from a heart attack, her former husband, Roger Allen, said. She had been a resident of North Hills.

Her first major commission, in 1986, set the course for her future. She made a 9-foot bronze sculpture of labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who helped organize a union for sleeping car porters in the 1920s, for a train station in Boston.

Over the next 22 years Allen created more than a dozen other sculptures of black activists to be displayed in public spaces. Whether her subjects were famous or not, her works were her way of "writing our history in bronze," Allen said.

For every nationally known figure -- agricultural scientist George Washington Carver for the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis or Sojourner Truth for Memorial Park in Battle Creek, Mich., -- Allen created one of her remarkable likenesses of a prominent local leader.

"Tina felt an obligation to get the word out about people who make important contributions but aren't household names," said Eric Hanks, an art dealer who represented Allen at the M. Hanks Gallery in Santa Monica in the 1990s.

Several of her works were created for sites in Los Angeles. Her bust of Celes King III, a founder of the California Congress of Racial Equality, was unveiled at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in 2004.

A bas-relief of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dr. Charles R. Drew was installed at King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in 1998.

She also made smaller abstract sculptures and bronzes of Hollywood celebrities.

A number of her works are now in museums and corporate and private collections.

She had a special rapport with her realistic sculptures, each one capturing a strong personality. "I'm trying to infuse a soul into these objects," Allen said of them in a 1992 interview with the Los Angeles Sentinel.

To begin a new work, she studied photographs and other likenesses of her subjects, interviewing their friends if possible, and talked to experts about them. Then she made a clay model.

"Tina said that once she got her hands into the clay, her subjects started talking to her," her agent, Quentin Moses, said this week.

As she sculpted a likeness of Frederick Douglass, who was born a slave and helped to abolish slavery, "he told me he's not happy," Allen said. It shows in his face, which closely resembles a famous photograph. The finished piece was featured in a scene from "Akeelah and the Bee," a 2006 movie about a girl in South Los Angeles who overcomes the odds and becomes a spelling bee champion.

"I'm looking at myself as speaking about the heart and soul of a people, and making sure they're not forgotten, making sure they don't feel ignored," Allen said in a 2003 interview with National Public Radio. "I like to think it's useful pieces of art as opposed to just decorative."


Sharon said...

Such a tragic loss. Ms. Allen was truly gifted and left a lasting legacy for all Americans.